First Congregational Church
January 24, 2021
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In honor of our own Church Family Annual Meeting, I give you this. “There will be a meeting of the Church Board immediately after the service,” announced the pastor. After the close of the service, the Church Board gathered at the back of the sanctuary for the announced meeting. But there was a stranger in their midst — a visitor who had never attended their church before.
“My friend,” said the pastor, “Didn’t you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?” “Yes,” said the visitor, “and after today’s sermon, I suppose I’m just about as bored as anyone else who came to this meeting.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s taken a long time to sort out the differences of the four gospels in this brain. I so understand that it’s hard to remember that Matthew and Luke were written by genealogists, that John was written by the poet-minded one, and that Mark was the bare-bones, just the facts ma'am, outline sort of writer.
Because Mark’s version was written to Roman Christians, maybe he skipped over the genealogies because that was more important to Jewish people than the Roman emphasis of leadership. Those observations certainly seem validated from today’s passage - in which Mark begins his whole book with grown-up cousin John baptizing Jesus - to John being imprisoned - all in just thirteen verses.
Jesus Announces the Good News
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Thank you, __. Anyone who has persevered through, I mean listened to even a few of the sermons I’ve delivered over the past year or two, knows that I have a great affection for a now retired Methodist pastor, Steven Garnaas Holmes. That he writes mostly in poetry is interesting, since I not overly passionate about that style of writing. What catches me, usually, is what he says, or how he says it. This week he was waxing eloquent about Jonah, and then mentioned some of those things that he seemed to think that a lot of folks learned in their youth - or even Sunday School.
Things like, “Ever watch somebody on slippery ice trying hard not to fall down? God is gravity. It's almost always funny when we try to resist it,” he said. I was trying like crazy to pick a different scripture passage for this morning, but that God and gravity thing won out - especially when I started looking at.
I mean, it’s so - nothing much. The passage basically describes Jesus calling the first four disciples. And the kingdom of God thing. Always the kingdom of God thing. What does all that - almost nothing - have to do with us and where we are on this January 24 in the year of our Lord 2021?
1. Putting up the first piece, like they do on crime shows, with actual paper thumbtacked to a bulletin board, would be something by Argentinian Osvaldo Vena, professor emeritus at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL wrote. The title of this piece that we are looking at would be “The Call” He said something I didn’t know, if you can imagine that.
He said, “This ‘fishers of people’ metaphor was used by missionaries all over the world to justify and legitimize the allegedly life-giving ministry of the Christian evangelist. And yet, it really is a metaphor of death: fish, when taken out of the water, die! But that has been interpreted as dying to the world, which results in life unto God, something the author of the Gospel clearly affirms later in Mark. The metaphor can also be explained by saying that since in the Bible the sea represents the place of the primordial chaos, inhabited by God’s mythical enemies, the fishing of people can have the connotation of rescuing them from the snares of the devil.”
Okay, impressive because of all the highfalutin theology. But the idea of the sea and chaos and dying and rescuing are interesting pieces. That’s especially so, when Rev. Vena ended his commentary with this. “The purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”
2. The Call to the fishermen was personal and relevant. Jesus used their names and spoke to what resonated with them. If they’d have been construction workers, maybe Jesus would have asked them to become builders of human hearts. Or if they’d have been real estate agents, he might have invited them to become sellers of kingdom turf.
3. The next note isn’t very big in size, but is huge in importance, and it would have the title “Kingdom of God.” (Back to that again.) God’s reign - in the ancient Greek - is not so much a place but more of a dominion or power with which to reign. This note is important because it makes more sense when Jesus says that “the kingdom is near.” God, Son, Spirit, all present then and now. Huge power all around. Ginormous power.
4. The next informational piece we tack onto the sermon scene bulletin board would be titled “Galilee.” We hear that name so much, but maybe we don’t remember so much that Galilee is a mountainous area on the west side of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. It was home to 1.2 million residents in 2006, mainly Jewish, but also Muslims and Arab Christians. Even in Jesus’ day, the area was largely multicultural, including a large Greek population, with a little over 200 towns lying within 1,341 square miles - roughly two times the area of Benzie County.
One gets a greater appreciation for Galilee when realizing that it’s great renown is for Nazareth and Cana (of wine and wedding fame). From last week’s message, Nazareth was comparable to unincorporated Nessen City or Bendon. No citadels of power or bright lights of notoriety. Not where one would expect to find Ginormous power with which one would reign.
5. Living in Harmony: It is, however, a place where people would live out the value of living in harmony, which can mean learning to agree to disagree. This little sub-note on our sermon scene board comes from a fair bit ago, when I wrote down this quote from a politician whom shall be named if you ask me. It must have been in a press conference or something like that because this was his response before moving on to another reporter. “Let me just extend appreciation for your effort to get my response and I respectfully defer to the next question.” Nice. Respectful. Classy.
6. Maybe as nice, but definitely not as classy would be the note entitled “The Brothers.” Fishermen, and by association, stretchers of truth. (I just made that last bit up.) Maybe a tad on the smelly side. Calloused and muscular and natives because of their dialect. A tangent note by Stephen Garnaas Holmes. “The storms in our life are not a test. But they might be a question.” So I wonder if father Zebedee and any other partners in these fishing enterprises asked any questions about being left in the lurch when The Brothers dropped their obligations and work to follow some guy that told them to.
7. “The Cost” of the passage is not cheap or always easy. But we like cheap and easy. We settle for cheap and easy - so easily. We’re not always keen on putting down our nets of familiarity and fear and pain to rise and follow one who knows there is a better way of hope and justice, raising lights of love and possibility that can be seen in us, to help others see the way in what may seem like a grim world.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, we are far too easily satisfied. We’re like a child who turns down an invitation for a day at the beach and chooses instead to stay sitting in a slum alley making mud pies just because the child really can’t imagine how much better a day at the shore can be. “What could be better than making these slimy mud pies?” the child might think. Oh, if only he knew!
Missouri born philosopher and university instructor, Dallas Willard, gives similar imagery from his growing up. When he was a boy, rural electrification was just happening and power lines were being strung throughout the countryside. But suppose even after the lines were up and running you ran across a house where the weary family still used only candles and kerosene lanterns for light, used scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters. A better life was waiting for them right outside their door if only they would let themselves be hooked into the power lines. “My friends,” you could proclaim, “electricity is at hand!” But suppose they just didn’t trust it, thought it was too much of a hassle, and anyway didn’t believe the promises that things might be easier with this newfangled juice running into their house. “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll stick with the old ways.”
When we add on the other points of Epiphany being the season of revelation, today being our church family’s annual meeting, i.e., looking back and forward, and it being January, the time for sorting through files and cabinets and drawers, and we stand back, we get this retrospective review and view.
Stephen Garnaas Holmes: In the middle of a raucous slapstick tale, Jonah, at the bottom of the sea, prays a beautiful prayer. Turns out the belly of a whale is a great place for contemplation. Seriously. One thing that makes it hard for people to repent is that we expect them not to. When saints judge people they trade places with the sinners. Ever notice how often we're mad because God isn’t? Life is more of a comedy than a tragedy. Lighten up.
When we step back, to look at this whole review, perhaps we can see - in retrospect, what Scott Hoezee adds: “the kingdom is - here, it’s real, it’s right outside our door. The kingdom of God is at hand! Don’t be so easily satisfied with the temporary pleasures. We can live knowing that this is true! We can live to help others believe it, too, because just look at what Jesus did with four guys not so unlike us. And so we should pray.
Faithful and Unchanging God, how well you know our propensity to do good is the other side of the coin that hosts our propensity to do nothing. How well you know that one laugh can conquer gloom, one smile can begin a friendship - even behind a mask, one tree can start a forest, one hope can raise spirits. Inspire us into tomorrow - and each tomorrow - to rise up from the nets that entangle us to the path of a new day into what we don’t know - because we trust you - not only because of a loved and/or respected encouragement, but also because of your fulfilled promises. Thank you, for you, your Son and your Holy Spirit for our call to a life lived in the divine and extraordinary. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.